The way people at the Capitol have been talking this week, you’d think Massachusetts raiding parties had set fire to Suffield. “Massachusetts has declared war on us,” said Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, “and we are going to fight back.” Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, said, “We will not step aside and let any other state… take jobs away from Connecticut.”
Their crime: daring to build a casino in Springfield, about 10 miles from the Connecticut border.
Plans have been in the works to build at least one Massachusetts casino for several years now, and construction for an MGM resort casino complex in Springfield will start this spring. Now legislative Democrats in Hartford want to team up with the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes to build a third Connecticut casino along I-91 somewhere north of Hartford as a “defensive,” job-protecting move.
This is a terrible idea based on wrong assumptions. A smaller casino north of Hartford will do nothing but further dilute an already weak casino market, and in the end it’ll probably be a failure and a money-loser. This is nothing more than a hypocritical stunt by a legislature that can’t think beyond the borders of the state.
There’s a few reasons legislators ought to think twice. I’ve written before about our government’s inability to realize that our borders are only lines on a map instead of walls, and this is yet another example of that sort of thinking. Believe it or not, a lot of people in northern Connecticut work, shop, and relax in Massachusetts, and the opposite is just as true. The corridor from Hartford to Northampton is less two separate regions separated by an impermeable barrier than two pieces of a much larger, deeply interwoven whole.
A Springfield casino will draw both customers and employees from Connecticut, true. But some of those workers will live in Connecticut, and many will shop and dine here as well. Don’t believe me? If you’re ever in the Enfield mall area, count the Massachusetts plates you see. There are quite a lot of them.
The other side of this is that it really doesn’t take a lot of time to get from northern Connecticut to the Springfield area. If someone wants to go gamble, will the lure of not having to drive for another 15 minutes really be that strong? What’s the point of putting another, smaller, less-interesting casino in what is essentially the exact same market? That sounds like a recipe for failure.
And it isn’t like the casino market is especially strong, either — local casinos are closing as people gamble less, more local casinos open, and the market becomes saturated. I’m frankly not convinced there’s enough demand to support the casino being built in Springfield, much less a second casino nearby. I wouldn’t be surprised if all of MGM’s lofty promises of jobs, economic revival and downtown resurgence turn out to be nothing but smoke and mirrors.
And none of that even touches the potential for gambling addiction to become an even bigger problem in our region.
So why is the legislature suddenly so interested in this? There must be a good reason, especially because the public clearly doesn’t want another casino.
It’s partly wounded pride, but also about pure profit for our homegrown casinos. Massachusetts gaming will further dilute their customer base, will hurt both casino operators dearly. That means less money for them, and also less money for the state government.
Secondly, the two tribal gaming operations haven’t suddenly developed a case of state pride so much as they both got shut out of Massachusetts gaming. If Mohegan Sun had ended up building the casino complex they’d planned for nearby Palmer, Mass., I doubt very much they’d be looking to build in northern Connecticut. The same is likely true for Foxwoods if they’d gotten that Boston-area gaming license they were after.
Lastly, if Connecticut workers do end up employed by MGM Springfield, their income taxes will go to Boston instead of Hartford, even if they otherwise spend their money in Connecticut.
This is therefore less a case of some ridiculous war between our states than that the state and the two casino operators are worried they’ll miss out on the bucks.
No matter what we decide to do, the local casino industry will likely continue to sink.There just aren’t enough gamblers to sustain so many operations. I’d rather we not chain ourselves to a northern Connecticut casino, especially when the bet is stacked against us.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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